A Matter Of Perspective

As I’m sure you already know, the latest internet “thing” is an audio file that plays the names “Yanni” or “Laurel” at different frequencies, and some people hear one, other people the other, and some people can hear both.  The New York Times set up a page with a tool on it that has a slider that lets you switch from hearing one name to the other.

Go try it – it’s awesome!  NYT – Hear Both Yanni And Laurel

It blew…my…mind.

I started out hearing Yanni very clearly, no Laurel.  My daughter could hear both in the original recording.  Among a lot of other things, she is a musician, so this didn’t really surprise me.  What DID surprise me is when I slid the slider almost to the END, and finally heard Laurel.  Here’s the mind blowing part: after that, I could hear Laurel as I slid the slider almost back to center.  As I went back and forth, it got easier and easier to hear BOTH.

There was a specific point that I could set the slider, where I could DECIDE what I heard. If I thought the name “Laurel”, that is what I would hear. If I thought the name “Yanni”, THAT is what I would hear.

This sent my mind spinning about how much of life is simply a matter of perspective. Our experience of life can change completely in a split second, simply by changing our perspective.  I mean, I’ve known this for a long time, but this audio file with the slider was such a tangible example – there was a certain point where I could just THINK it, and it was “true”.

Distraction Can Help Change Perspective

I use distraction to manage my physical pain a lot.  I mean, a LOT. (Unfortunately, one of the best distractions is food, so I might need to rethink that a bit.)  I use other things, as well, and one of the most effective is interacting with other people. Even if it’s just an online exchange, it gets me out of my own head and body enough that pain takes a back seat for a while.

This isn’t always a good thing, because if I distract myself for too long the repercussions can be a LOT more pain an hour later.  So I have to manage it…but still, the point is that if my pain levels are not TOO high, I can usually distract myself. I can choose where I focus my mind, which is part of changing perspective.  Perspective is about 2 points – Point A, from where we focus, and Point B, the object of our focus – what we focus ON.

If Point A is pain, and I am looking at the world from within pain, it rules everything.  It is the starting point of all perspective, and that means everything on which I focus is affected.  Can I clean the kitchen?? Nope – it would hurt too much. Can I go out and play? Nope – it would hurt too much.  “It would hurt too much” becomes my Point B, almost no matter what I am considering doing.

Changing Perspective

On the other hand, if I don’t view it through pain, and instead create a Point A that is a feeling of potential pleasure, I can get out of the house and enjoy my life.  Because I live with pain as a constant companion, this can take a lot of mental discipline, but it IS possible. One of the ways I make it possible is to have strategies in place to deal with potential consequences – i.e. if my body gives out in the middle of the park, what do I do?

This actually happened to me once – not a park, but the airport!  I had refused to acknowledge my physical limitations, and gone out of town for a week long certification class for “HypnoBirthing”.  I made it through the whole week, and collapsed in the airport after I flew back to my hometown. I had to drag myself from the center of the terminal to the seats at one of the gates, and drag myself up into the chair.  It took over an hour for my body to come back online enough for me to limp to the rental car place.

All because I refused to ask for help.  I refused to let my husband come pick me up at the airport – nooooo, I was FINE, I could just take a shuttle!  I wasn’t fine, I was stupid because I wouldn’t deal with reality.

Reality – REAL reality – is NOT a matter of perspective.  How we look at reality and how reality affects us…THAT is about perspective.

Well, Here’s A New Perspective!

My husband and I are separating after 22 years being married.  He leaves tomorrow, so the last few days have been packing and dealing with “the end”.  Up until about 2 months ago, I would have sworn to anyone who would listen that I would be with this man until the day I die.  Our friends viewed us as the couple to BE – we were the shining example of true love. 

My perspective on that changed in an instant when I realized we were not going to be able to fix things THIS time.  Ever since that moment, life has looked SO different.  Right now, my emotions are on lock down, just so I can get through. Normally, however, this level of emotional upheaval would have me both panicked and cowering in a dark corner under my desk.  (I wish I were making that up for comedic effect, but it HAS happened.)

One of the things helping me keep a more healthy perspective is the social interaction that I’ve been having lately.  It has given me something else to think about.  Something else on which to focus my mind…  It is keeping the depression and anxiety monsters hovering in the background, rather than taking over.

Preparing For The Storm

I fully realize and accept that after he is gone, my emotions may come crashing down on me.  I’m prepared for that. I have purchased many pints of ice cream, and have queued up as many funny movies as I can find.  

I have many friends on standby, all of whom know what is going on, and all of whom know my mental health may play a role in how things go for me over the next few weeks.  A couple of them are scared for me – they’ve been through some of my darkest times when the reality outside my mind was GREAT – and I was still at risk of going over the edge.

I’ve been receiving messages and having people who love me checking in, and it makes me feel like I’ll be “OK”.  All because I knew that I needed to tell people, and make sure I wasn’t being stupid and thinking that I wouldn’t need help.

Right now, while my brain is “sane”, I’m choosing to focus on the good things.  However, I do have to assume that it WILL come, so I can be prepared, so that it doesn’t ruin my life…again.  The last time I “decided” I would never be depressed again, when it hit, it hit SO hard I couldn’t get up off the metaphorical floor for MONTHS.  I have learned…it WILL be back, and I will no longer have a spouse to help me through it.

Going It Alone

Although I dealt with depression and anxiety as early as my teens, they did not become debilitating until about 15 years ago.  My soon-to-be estranged husband has been there for me through all of it.  He never judged, he never thought me weak.  After witnessing what I went through, he told me that I was the strongest person he’d ever known.

He helped me view myself as conqueror rather than conquered, and he was willing to repeat it as often as I needed.  From now on, I will not have that life partner to support me emotionally while I work my way back up to the surface.  Hell, in very pragmatic terms, I may not even have the financial support that has kept me from being homeless when mental illness or physical pain have robbed me of the ability to work.  

From one perspective…I will be very much alone. 

“Always Look On The Bright Side of Life”

This song from “Life of Brian” rings in my head whenever I need to laugh.  So the bright side of this situation?  Well – I don’t have to share the bathroom anymore, or talk to anyone before I’ve had my coffee.  There will be more room for art supplies with his stuff out of the way.  Ummmm…there’s more.  I’m sure there’s more.  I’ll keep you posted.

I also keep hearing the refrain from that R.E.M song running through my head… “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feeeeeeeel fine.”

OK – I think I lost my “Point A” for a minute.  OH – perspective and friends, that’s right.  Another way to get a more healthy perspective is for me to realize that many other people have been through similar events, and not only come out alive, but even thrived, after some of the worst times in their lives.  As long as you are alive, there is the possibility of something better.

Perspective About Mental Disorders

Sometimes it can be hard for friends to understand mental illness, but they love and care and want to help.  People with healthy brains CAN sympathize and even empathize with someone living with disorders like depression, anxiety, etc.  Although some mental illness is so far outside the realm of normal experience that it can be hard to understand, MANY mental disorders and neurodivergent mental processes are extreme and pervasive experiences that overlap with their more moderate and transitory “normal” mental counterparts.

Many people “get depressed” – or experience sadness over life events – they just don’t get stuck there, and they are sad for a REASON.  Something actually happened, and they need rest and to be gentle with themselves and practice good self care and talk to friends and loved ones…but they WILL come out the other end and still be able to function.

A lot of people get nervous about things, and fear can even stop them from trying, sometimes.  People with healthy mental processes can work through this type of fear and get on with their lives – it doesn’t make them hide in their rooms and refuse to go outside, or talk to other people.

“Getting Depressed” vs. Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder

Clinical Depression is a different beast than getting depressed…but it IS similar to really tired, dark, sad feelings that most people experience sometimes.  If you are someone who does NOT experience Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder, you can find a way to empathize by simply imagining your worst time – and really remember how that felt for just a minute – and then imagine that feeling when there is NO external reason for it.  Imagine that feeling just won’t go away…for months, or years. Imagine that the feeling finally does go away…and then comes back – BAM – a couple of days or weeks later, and that the cycle just keeps on going and going and going.

OK – stop imagining that.  That shit sucks. Quick – think of fuzzy baby bunny butts, cute kittens, frolicking ferrets…pizza and beer!  Happy, shiny times that feel GOOOOOD.

Phew – that was close.  Alright – back to our regularly scheduled program.

You Really CAN Help

If you know someone who seems unable to make the choice to focus on the positive – to hear “Yanni” instead of “Laurel” – consider the possibility that they are doing the best they can.  Literally – they aren’t necessarily laying down and giving up by choice. They may be trying REALLY hard. It may take an uncommon strength just to choose to stay alive and fight another day.

If you want to help someone you care about who can’t shift their own perspective for awhile, you may need to shift yours.  Instead of telling them to look on the bright side, look on the bright side for them, and just give them something to laugh about.  If they are having a hard time imagining a better life, or a safe life, or a bright future – do it for them.

Describe seeing them in a bright and happy future.  Plan a fun outing together and help them imagine having a good time – tell them what they would see, what they would hear, what they would smell!  (Make sure you know what is happy FOR THEM…don’t assume your happy will be theirs.)  

Don’t TELL them to feel better – they are already trying!  Instead, paint them a picture with your words, or send them a funny video, or remind them of good times.  Or just be there to talk about normal, every day life.

Do anything that lets them know that what they are feeling in the moment is not the totality of their existence.  It is just a matter of their current perspective.

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